Compassionate capitalism can negate need for state interference
By Ricky Browne
Some countries have no idea how they will possibly cover the cost of vaccines for their populations, and may have to wait until as late as 2025 before they can get any vaccines at all. But seven billionaires could easily provide the cash needed to ensure a global vaccination rollout.
Recently Guinea was in the news for only vaccinating 25 of its people – one of them being the president. But that is 25 better than many other countries.
Part of the problem is availability of the vaccine – with developed countries paying billions of dollars upfront to the vaccine-producing companies, so that they will have shots for their population. But because it is a biological process and not just a manufacturing process, it takes time to produce the millions and billions of vaccines that are necessary.
Another part of the problem is cost. Some countries simply don’t have the money and must wait on charity.
Both problems could be solved by a handful of the world’s billionaires if they so desired. They have more money than God, and the type of money they have can move mountains – or even get people to Mars.
So, in the name of compassionate capitalism – not to mention self-interest – you would think that some of these billionaires would be lining up to put their money to good use.
So who should be on this list of billionaires ?
Bill Gates comes to mind. Gates runs a charitable foundation that seeks to rid the world of polio and malaria and some other diseases that most people have never heard of. Couldn’t he now turn his charity’s focus onto getting shots into people’s arms? In fact his foundation has already promised to spend US$300 million to combat Covid-19. But is it possible to give more?
Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is estimated to have a net worth of US$132 billion by Investopedia.
Then you have Elon Musk – who Forbes declares is now the world’s richest man – though quite how that is possible from owning what is in fact a very small manufacturer of cars is another story. If the South African-born billionaire wasn’t interested in the welfare of the world at large, maybe he could look just to the land of his birth.
Musk, the CEO and co-founder of Tesla is estimated to have a net worth of US$197 billion, according to Investopedia.
Tesla’s stock price surged by 705 percent in 2020, so the pandemic hasn’t been bad for him at all.
How about Warren Buffet? The billionaire Oracle of Omaha has more money than he could ever spend in 100 lifetimes – and now that he is in his 90s – that’s with a 9 — we can assume that his own lifetime won’t last much longer. He doesn’t live extravagantly either. Couldn’t he donate a few billion US dollars to vaccinating the world?
Buffett does in fact contribute billions to charity — largely though the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and is said to have given away Us$41 billion since 2006. So presumably he wouldn’t mind giving away a few more billion.
Buffet is the world’s most famous investor and is the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. He is estimated to have a net worth of about US$88.3 billion.
How about Jeff Bezos – who was the world’s richest man for a few moments before having that crown snatched away by Musk. He and his company Amazon have made billions in this pandemic as more and more people shop online, unable to venture onto the high street. Bezos must yearn to be number one once more. But how about yearning to do more for the world and its defeat of this pandemic than anyone else?
Bezos, the CEO and founder of Amazon is estimated to have a net worth of US$182 billion.
Mark Zuckerberg seems to be deflecting from his wealth by banning people from his social network such as Donald Trump and more recently a group of 137,000 investors known as Robinhood, in a move that the Sheriff of Nottingham might have approved of.
Zuckerberg, the CEO, chairman and co-founder of Facebook, the world’s largest social network, is believed to have a net worth of US$95.6 billion according to Investopedia.
You might think that Chinese billionaires might have a particular strength of feeling about tackling this pandemic as it started in Wuhan, China before spreading to the world.
Jack Ma has been largely out of the public eye for a few months, having said something negative against the Chinese government. But Ma would be in a position to help send out the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine as opposed to the largely-British AstraZeneca one, to l without making much a dent in his fortune.
Ma, the founder of the Alibaba Group, China’s biggest e-commerce company is believed to have a net worth of US$50.6 billion according to Bloomberg.
As large as Ma’s fortune is, it isn’t as impressive as Zhong Shanshan, the founder and chairman of Nongfu Spring, a beverage company. Zhong may be the least-well known of the billionaires on this list, but he is estimated to have a net worth of US$84.7 billion.
What would be the cost of vaccinating the world against this pandemic?
Well, there are about 7.7 billion people on the planet – but only 70 percent of them would need to be vaccinated to ensure immunity. So about 5.5 billion people would need vaccines.
But the populations of most of the ‘developed world’ including North America and Europe, including Britain and Japan are already covered – so vaccines only need to be found for the remainder.
If we say that covers one billion people we can assume that 4.5 billion people need vaccines.
COST OF VACCINES
Then the cost of the vaccines. If we assume that instead of using the more costly Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the more affordable AstraZeneca vaccine was used – that would be a cost of US$3 per vaccine, but two are needed for immunity, so make that US$6.
Of course there would be the cost of transportation and actually delivering the vaccine into a person’s arm. So lets add another dollar and make it US$7 per vaccine.
The total cost to the world to vaccinate 70 percent of the people could therefore be in the region of US$31.5 billion.
That is basically chump change for these people.
In their number they already have a vehicle to roll out the vaccines, via the Gates foundation. But heck, they could make their own foundations if they wanted, and attach their own names to it.
THIRD WORLD WEALTH
The term ‘Third World’ has started to fall out of favour. But the image it conjures, of the world’s poorest living on a separate planet, who can be cut off completely at no cost to those fortunate enough to live in the ‘First World’ still endures.
But the fact is that the First World won’t be free of Covid-19 until the Third World is also free of it.
A country like Haiti, the poorest in the Americas, but by no means the poorest in the world, has a per capita GDP (using purchasing power parity or PPP) about US$1,819. It can consider itself to be better off than the Central African Republic, which has a per capita GDP of about US$727.
Meanwhile, Jamaica – Haiti’s neighbour – has a per capita income of about US$9,000 using the PPP method. Its population of about 2.8 million people has a GDP of about US$29 billion.
That compares to Haiti, with a population of 11.2 million it is almost four times larger than Jamaica – but its GDP is only slightly larger at about US$33 billion.
Together, the two countries of about 14 million people have a total GDP that is lower than almost every billionaire on this list.
So far, no one in either Jamaica or Haiti has received a vaccine in their countries.
All together the seven billionaires on our list have a total net worth of about US$832 billion – just a billionaire or two short of a US$ trillion.
None of these billionaires conjured up these fortunes out of thin air. They either sold a decent product or service or invested wisely. And most made their money from the millions and billions of people who bought or utilised their services.
Wealth allows billionaires to use vanity projects, not just to project their names onto the pages of history, but also to attempt to put them in the category of good. That is why we know of Carnegie Hall and the Rockefeller Center in New York and Vanderbilt University in Nashville for example.
At least two of these seven billionaires – Gates and Buffett – have shown that they are capable of giving away billions of dollars to good causes.
Can they now do it together in a more joined-up way, to help defeat this pandemic, and project their names into history.
To contribute US$31.5 billion to this fight, the seven billionaires would have to contribute only US$4.5 billion each.
That’s nothing to lose sleep over – most of them make more than that in a year.
But apart from helping to rid the world of this scourge, it would demonstrate the power of free-market capitalism over state-intervention. It would show that in times of desperate need, that the rich can step forward on their own accord to help the world in its hour of greatest need. That the concept of compassionate capitalism can exist.
Alternately, they could try to sit on their fortunes like Scrooge McDuck, and use them for nothing of significance – creating a huge groundswell of resentment that could see them toppled from their positions, either by the state or by an individual.
It may be true that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. But it shouldn’t be for lack of trying.